Tong bei quan, or through-the-back fist, is among Chinese fastest and most-viscious martial arts

ImageSun Anguang is a fifth-generation master of wuxin tong bei. He learned tong bei from Zheng Jianfeng during his years in Shenyang, Northern China (1982-1987). Master Zheng Jianfeng is a one of top Chinese martial artists and is famous for his tong bei expertise and knowledge. He is the disciple of Wang Jiayi, who was the disciple of wuxin tong bei founder Xiu Jianchi. Zheng Qi Long is the son of master Zheng Jianfeng.

“Tong bei’s intent is to strike first and fast with vicious intention and fierce force.”

“Tong bei quan literally means through-the-back boxing.”

Though it sounds alien to Westerns, tong bei quan (through-the-back fist) has a big name in China because of its distinguished fighting efficiency and complete systems both in theory and in training. It is highly acknowledged and regarded as one of the major schools in Northern China along with taiji, xingyi, bagua and shaolin, which are more familiar with most people.

Like most big schools, tong bei quan’s precise origin is shrouded in mystery because of its long history and traditional conservatism. And also because of its long history of development, it has different names in different regions, such as wuxing (five phases) tong bei, baiyuan (white apes) tong bei. Although they are different in sub-names and external forms, they bear the same origin and the founder, the Qi Family.

Qi Family Tong Bei

According to the by Xiu Jianchi, tong bei quan originates from Qi Xin of Zhejiang province in early 1800s. He is the founder of lao qi pai tong bei or old qi style tong bei, which emphasizes simplicity and power. He passed down the art to his son, Qi Taichang, who improved it so much that it became a new style called shao qi pai tong bei or young qi style tong bei. Shao qi tong bei favors softness and relaxation and is more exquisite and supple. Qi Taichang taught this art to Xu Tianhe. Xu Tianhe taught Xiu Jianchi.

Xiu Jianchi and WuXin Tong Bei

Xiu Jianchi (1883-1959) is the most important successor to the new style tong bei and credited for the popularity and reputation of tong bei as it is of Today. A scholar-type martial artist, he left behind him rich legacy. He started using the name wuxin tong bei by applying the Five Phases of the traditional Chinese philosophy into the system and relating them to the five basic palms. He compiled and wrote most tong bei literatures and finally made it a complete system. Most tong bei practitioners in China now are practicing wuxin tong bei.

The following table shows the interrelations among the five phases of nature, human being and tong bei boxing.


Five organs

Five phases

Five actions

Five feelings

Five phenomena





























ImageGeneral Principle

Tong bei quan literally means through-the-back boxing. The general principles for this martial art are: deliver power through back; stretch long and reach far; and initiate attack and control. The key word in tong bei quan is speed. The hands shoot like a shooting star. The body moves like lightning. Feet advance or retreat like flowing and flying. The movements are not clearly seen and unhindered, suddenly hard, suddenly soft, suddenly big, suddenly small, suddenly empty, suddenly real, inside outside in harmony, body and spirit unified.

Basic Training

The basic training of tong bei quan consists of 12 general drills that divided into six standing drills and six moving drills; five defensive patterns; and 108 solo techniques. The basic of the basics is to shake wrists and circle arms. There is a famous tong bei saying, “Circle arms and shake wrists, mastery of tong bei is half-done.” Single form drills are also emphasized and the five major palms (of throwing, slapping, thrusting, shopping and drilling) are repeatedly and continuously practiced.

Relaxed and Ready

WuXin tong bei is always ready to jump forward and attack. Its does not have bow-arrow stance or crouch stance. WuXin tong bei requires the whole body to be relaxed. The body is san zhe jiu kou (three folds and nine bends) for the purpose of executing an immediate strike. Three folds refer to the bow shape of three big body parts—two arms, trunk and two legs. These five parts should be like five bows that are ready to shoot arrows. Nine bends refer to the slightly bending and relaxation of finger, wrist, elbow, shoulder, waist, hip, knee, ankle and toe. None of the joints is allowed to be stiff straight or locked at any time. Once in motion, hands like arrows, waist like a snake and body like a drill.

Strike First and Fast

Tong bei quan is mean-spirited and very aggressive. Once you decide to fight, its intent is to strike first and fast with vicious intention and fierce force. It is characterized by its long arm strike. Stretch long and hit far. All training is in service of this purpose. Twist the waist, flex the back, relax the shoulders and extend the arms. Envision your arms as whips and send power to the fingertips. The typical applications are the frequent use of thrusting palms and chopping mountain palms. The primary targets of attack are face, heart and groin area.

Tong Bei Quan Fajin

In tong bei quan, training or practice is changing jin (power) and fighting or application is releasing jin. Once the raw power of the muscles is refined and tuned, the body is ready to issue explosive power. There are two types of fajin in tong bei quan. One is yaobei (waist and back) fajin. The other is zhanyi (touch clothing) fajin. Yaobei fajin is fajin through the back and waist. Zhanyi fajin is to touch clothes and then fajin. The first emphasizes fajin with the whole body by flexing the back, and the second implies fajin within a short range, which is inch fajin.

The Unique Zhanyi Fajin

Zhanyi fajin (touch-clothes-before-fajin) is one of most noticeable features in wuxin tong bei quan. When Tougbei practitioner practices, he makes sound by slapping parts of the body or by rubbing the clothing when two arms shuttles. The sound serves as a cue for the moment of impact and reference for the power issued. The faster and louder the sound, the harder and more repeated the strikes on the imagery opponent. In practice he touches his own clothes fajin. In a fight, he touches enemy’s clothes fajin. The specific teaching is, “Don’t release the force before you touch the opponent’s clothes.”

Indomitable spirit

Tong bei quan techniques and skills mimic the animal’s behavior and capture the essence of their movements and qualities to demonstrate indomitable spirit. It is important to feel and convey their disposition rather than superficially imitate their external attributes. Stand like a crane, leap like a tiger, evade like a monkey, catch like an eagle, pounce like a cat, enter like a hawk. When big, big like a roc spreads its wings. When small, small like a monkey shrinks its body. When fierce, fierce like a roaring lion. When vicious, vicious like eagle catches rabbit. When light, light like a sparrow touches the water. When agile, agile like a hawk turns its body. When firm, firm like crane stands. When lively, lively like white snake sneaking out of a hole. When fight, fight like a champion cock. When fast, fast like a smart cat bounces on mouse.

Explosive Tong Bei Available on DVD!

Tong bei quan is one of the most popular styles in Northern China. Because of its long history, no one is sure of the style’s specific founder. It is even known by different names in different regions. However, tong bei is widely regarded as one of the most effective combat systems, because of its devastating speed and delivery. Featuring an emphasis on whipping power, as well as sideways entering and evasive tactics, tong bei is extremely difficult to defend.

In this rare look at this devastating and powerful system of Chinese boxing, master Sun Anguang, trained under renowned tong bei master Zheng Jianfeng, gives a thorough overview of a system that has been evolving for over 2,000 years.

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